The Grove – Marriage

Many of us arrive on the field armed with little more than good intentions and a partner by our side.  Little do we know how much our marriage relationship will go through as we enter a new world and try to live out those good intentions.

We’ve had some incredible posts this week about how marriage is the beautiful hard, how it means saying “I do, still” and how healing means forgiving your husband.

Today I’m offering up “6 Ways to Build into Your Marriage Overseas” because the health of our marriages will make or break us.

6 Ways to build into your marriage overseas1


1.  Be each other’s barometer.  In this life overseas, you have a built in barometer, someone to read you and tell you when you’re getting to the “danger zone,” when the pressures and stress of life are getting to be too much.  Spouses need to throw each other a life saver and say, “You need a break.  Let’s make that happen.”

Sometimes it will feel like a teeter totter, as you take turns being the one down.  But have you noticed how when one of you is down, the other becomes strong, knowing it’s time to pull for the both of you?  Somehow in the back and forth, the up and down, the dance of marriage, the both of you grow stronger.

2.  Collaborate, don’t compete. Many couples aren’t prepared for the competitive edge that can sneak into the marriage relationship when you serve overseas.  In your previous life, your roles and responsibilities may have been more clearly defined into “his” and “hers.”  Start life in a foreign place and suddenly those lines can get blurry.  Suddenly you’re both learning language.  Maybe one of you has a knack for it and the other…doesn’t.  Maybe you’re working side by side, one of you shining more brightly, the other left trying to hide feelings of jealousy.

Lean into each other’s strengths and remember you are one.  Your successes are his, and his are yours.  Say the words, “I’m proud of you” and then live it.  You have more power than you know to encourage him.

3.  Re-define fun together – Things you did for fun together in you pre-overseas life may be difficult or impossible now.  So it’s easy to simply stop having fun together, not consciously, but simply because you don’t know how to have fun where you are.  Marriage without fun loses it’s spark, so make fun a priority.

I remember in our first year in China, we were clueless about what to do for a date night.  So one night, my husband pulled out some dice and said, “Here, whatever number you roll that’s how many stops we’re going to go on the bus.  Whatever we find at that bus stop is going to be our date.”   Guess where we ended up eating?  KFC!  Who knew KFC could be fun?  Of all our dates that first year, THAT is the date we remember.

So keep experimenting.  Some things will definitely flop, if you let it, the flop can be part of the fun.

4.  Sneak something special into the luggage –   Let’s be honest, gift-giving in a foreign country can be… difficult and sometimes disappointing.  (Although did you ever imagine you’d get so excited about a box of imported cereal??)

On your next trip back to the States try to pick up a special something that you can hide in your luggage and pull out for his birthday, your anniversary, or Christmas.  My husband is WAY better about this than I am.  He’s a pretty amazing gift-giver, and I’m…usually not.  But I know how loved I feel when I open a gift that he’s planned and prepared for.  So I’m trying to love him like that, too.

5.  Budget time and money to be together, weekly and yearly.  There’s probably a reason why this advice is printed in every marriage book ever written (only a slight exaggeration).  And yet how often do we not do this because it somehow feels selfish?

Do you plan a night away for just the two of you during your trips to the States?  Or do you let the expectations of family, friends, and supporters rule your schedule?  Is a regular date night just too much of a hassle?

Frankly, the longevity of our service overseas depends on the health of our marriage, and without intentional nurturing and investment, the relationship will grow weaker.  Time for the two of you doesn’t need to be extravagant, but it does need to happen.

6.  Believe in each other’s dreams.  I remember  a year ago when Velvet Ashes was just a dream.  I was hesitating to take the plunge, to put it out there and see it become a reality.  I asked my husband if I should really do this.  He said, “Of course you should.  Haven’t we seen God’s hand all over this?”  He believed in me when I doubted myself.  And he’s made this dream possible by making it a priority in our life.

I was the one that told him that “Yes, you are meant for this PhD program.”  It’s a big load for our family, but when you believe in something for your spouse, you make it happen for them.

But you also remember at the end of the day, on the other side of the dreams and goals for life, there’s the two of you, and that matters more than it all.  My husband would sooner turn in a major paper late than cancel a night out with me.  If I fret about that for him, he simply says “You matter more.”

And he’s right.  I do.  And he does.

The beautiful oneness that is us, the dim and cracked reflection of Christ and his Bride, it matters.


How do you build into your marriage overseas?  Come share your heart, your words, your art on our prompt “Marriage.”

Here’s how:

  • You can share with us in the comments, if you don’t have a blog of your own. We have the amazing ability to post images in our comments! So post images of your art and/or share your words there.
  • If you write a comment, please avoid copying and pasting from Word as this will publish a lot of junk computer code.  It’s best to type it directly into the comment box.
  • If you have a blog, write or make art based on the prompt and join the link-up!
  • Be sure to add the Velvet Ashes link ( to your blog post.  You can add the prompt image too!
  • Please select the permalink from your post (so not your blog’s url, but your post url:
  • Click on the blue “Add your link” button below to add your blog post to this page.
  • It will walk you through selecting which image you want to show up in the linky.
  • Then your picture and link will show up below!
  • Then be sure to go visit each other’s sites and share some comment love! It’s the rule. We applaud brave hearts!

If you’re reading in email, be sure to click “Read in Browser” to go to the site to view the link ups and conversation in the comments.

Photo Credit: eflon via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: ~~~johnny~~~ via Compfight cc


  1. Kimberly Todd May 22, 2014

    Great list! I love how much mutuality – sharing with each other, serving one another, bearing one another’s burdens and celebrating each another – are in here. In addition to prioritizing weekly dates and yearly getaways, we prize our morning coffee routine. This is our first connection in the day and it sets the tone. It’s a practical time – who’s got what doing on today and who’s shouldering what to get there. But the best part is the conversation, connection, laughter and dreaming together.

    1. Danielle Wheeler May 22, 2014

      Ooh, love the idea of your morning coffee routine. Have to ask, do you set alarms to get up before the kids?  In other words, how early does this magical time happen?  🙂

      1. Kimberly Todd May 23, 2014

        Glad you asked! Somehow we’ve settled into a rhythm for it. Unless it’s the dead dark of winter and one of has an 8:00am class, we don’t use alarms. Nick naturally wakes up before the boys and I do so he gets some quiet time and he usually makes the coffee. I usually wake up when a little one wiggles into bed with me or when one comes to tell me that the coffee is ready. The kids are with us and a part of the routine. We serve them, we get interrupted, there are demands, but there’s no agenda for this time so we just keep picking back up where we got cut off. A lot of mornings the boys will run off to play after awhile. We might get a half hour if one of us has to be out the door. On other days we can linger.

        1. Elizabeth May 23, 2014

          Love that you can do this! We often get a coffee break together in the afternoon, during a homeschool break, and in between my husband’s various responsibilities. I love it. I don’t know about you, but we never had that in America.

          1. Danielle Wheeler May 23, 2014

            Yes, there are perks to this life!  Love the reminder to cherish them.  And , Kim, thank you for the window into your mornings!  Beautiful.

    2. laura May 24, 2014

      Love this!  The only thing that is on my iCalendar everyday is our coffee with my husband!  We, too, get interrupted by the littles but they have learned that this is our special ‘mommy/daddy’ time so for the most part play alongside us as we visit, plan the day and dream together.

  2. Anisha May 23, 2014

    My husband and I are new overseas workers and currently learning language…  #2 is EXACTLY it for us. What a challenge this can be, one we never expected. Great list thanks for sharing!

    1. Danielle Wheeler May 23, 2014

      Anisha, your blog post that you linked up so perfectly fleshes out #2 for us!  You’re right, envy is the core, and love does not envy!  So glad you shared.

  3. Elizabeth May 23, 2014

    Oh I love love love these! They are beautiful ideas, and they are evidence that good things are going on in your marriage, too 🙂

    Number 5 is so important. I totally agree that our marriages can make or break our time here. I remember when we went to counseling before moving overseas, and the counselor told us that it’s so important to start working out our issues and finding healing BEFORE we went overseas, otherwise we’d be back in a couple years in burnout and with a broken family. He had seen it too many times before, had counseled countless former overseas workers, and so wanted to work with people before they left. He had been trying to get various orgs to require counseling for years (he was in CO Springs where there are lots of orgs!). And though we had had a great marriage up to that point, the counseling smoothed some of the fray edges and took us to a much deeper level of intimacy that we had ever thought possible. And we have definitely found a good marriage to be a rock for us overseas.

    And I love number 6. Believing in each other’s dreams is so much fun! And has helped both of us through some rough spots. But I have to say number 2 is the one that has been hardest for me. I totally agree with you here, it has just been hardest to implement. When your skill sets overlap, it’s hard not to be jealous of someone else’s success! And that hasn’t happened since high school when we competed in academics. It’s definitely been something we’ve had to deal with this year, which makes #5 harder too. Because when you’re accustomed to your marriage being your rock, and suddenly it’s rocky terrain, that makes all of life a little shaky. I feel like we’re on the other side of a really hard time of learning how to celebrate each other’s wins, and for that I’m really thankful. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t really, really hard or that I’m not still nervous this issue won’t come up again.

    1. Anisha May 23, 2014

      “Because when you’re accustomed to your marriage being your rock, and suddenly it’s rocky terrain, that makes all of life a little shaky. ” Elizabeth, yes! I so get you on this.

    2. Danielle Wheeler May 23, 2014

      So glad you’re on the other side of a hard time.  Sounds like you’ll be steadier and more grace-filled should the issue come around again.  And you’re right, counseling BEFORE going overseas would save us all a lot of heartache!  Love hearing of the deep intimacy that counseling brought you.

  4. Amy Young May 23, 2014

    Growing up my parents let us know (in a very nice way) that their marriage was a priority because though we were “passing through” — for 18 years 🙂 — we were not permanents in the home. They were. And they wanted their marriage not to be about their children –to involve, focus on, and prioritize us, but not at the expense of their marriage. They had the long view in mind and it served them well. They had kids in the house for a total of 20 years and no kids in the house for 28. More of their marriage was spent without kids than with (and they had three, born close to each other, darlings).

    1. Danielle Wheeler May 23, 2014

      Haha, it’s good to remember that the kids are “just passing through.”  During the young and very needy years, it’s hard to not bemoan all the moments when their needs trump our marriage needs.  But I love the reminder to have the overall tone that marriage comes first and to keep the long view in mind!

    2. JulieB May 24, 2014

      I love this Amy!  I have thought this….but have never put words to it…..”the kids are just passing through”!  We have now been married for almost 38 years…..and have been totally empty nested for the last 5 years.  (A couple of our kids left for college then ended up coming back to “save money” till they got married!)  Yes- sometimes they do circle back and move back in for a short time!  All you younger marrieds out there……There is still life after kids!!    But you have to intentionally cultivate the relationship with your husband now in order to enjoy the life after kids. That includes learning to have fun together now, learning how to laugh at yourself and all the crazy things that life brings along, and most of all taking the challenge to be the first one to forgive.

  5. Colleen Mitchell May 23, 2014

    I have been so enriched by this week’s conversations, you guys. Inspired to pursue the high calling in my marriage and equipped with practical tips for doing so in this wild crazy overseas life. You are gift and blessing.

    1. Danielle Wheeler May 23, 2014

      So glad you added your voice to the conversation with your beautiful blog post, Colleen!

  6. Ashley Felder May 24, 2014

    #3 is our challenge. I always want him to plan something fun and spontaneous. (Why I think I should have no part in that, I don’t know!) We often find ourselves going to the same restaurant for every date. Or a mall. Wow, they are ALL the same around here! Thanks for getting the ball rolling on what I could do to spice up our time alone. I’m pretty sure my hubby has mentioned randomly riding a bus, but I moaned something like, “yeah, and we’ll end up at a construction zone or back alley with creepy street food.” I guess I’m the one that needs the attitude change about spontaneity! Shoot, when I visited him while we were dating, we went to the famous WangFuJing and ate lamb “parts!” (TMI?) And, since we’re about to spend several months in America, it’s a good reminder to keep up the date night routine there. In my head, I know dates are easier because there are so many people to watch the kids and SO many fun places to go, but then we either get lazy, busy, or don’t want to spend a ton of money. Goal: find free or super cheap date ideas! 🙂

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.